Brig. Gen. Hickman Delivers Speech at Fort Polk Memorial Ceremony

Speech by Brig. Gen. William B. Hickman, Commander of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk:

“The cost of freedom is not borne equally by all Americans

It never has been – and it never will be. There will always be some Americans that stand up and take the lead in defending our freedom. And there will always be Family members left behind that will worry, console and care for others.

There will be other Americans that are still supporting their country, building a strong country but not in the lead, not in our Nation’s military, not volunteering to deploy and go into harm’s way.

And there will be still others that want to criticize their country without committing to improve our nation. They will neither commit nor expose themselves to hardship and sacrifice.

No, the cost of freedom is not borne equally by all Americans.

In our country alone, you can walk the battlefields of Bunker Hill, Yorktown, Bull Run, Shiloh, Stone’s River, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and more. You can walk the fields and forests of Central and Southwest Louisiana, where the Louisiana Maneuvers occurred, where Soldiers trained for World War II and Korea, and later a potential nuclear war; and at Tiger Land – where our Vietnam War Veterans trained.

With visits to these battlefields and training grounds you understand that …

The cost of freedom is not borne equally by all Americans.

USFlagOur Veterans can tell you about the cost of freedom … the Veterans that landed on the beaches, conducted bombing runs in some of the most difficult circumstances, and liberated the Holocaust survivors. You can talk to our Veterans that fought across the Korean peninsula in some of the coldest, harshest terrain imaginable. You can talk to our veterans that fought in the jungles and highlands of Vietnam and returned home to an ungrateful nation.

You can talk our veterans that served in Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Yemen, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and more, defending Americans and our nation’s interests.

No, the cost of freedom is not borne equally by all Americans. The cost of Freedom has been paid in many ways. It was paid on the battlefields and veterans’ cemeteries that have spread across our nation and the world. It was paid by the futures that never happened — when military members made the ultimate sacrifice and promising lives were left unlived. It is paid in our commitment to never forget our missing in action, to return to the battlefields in search of our missing comrades.

It was paid when the military expanded in the early 1940s – when military installations were formed to train and house an expanded military at places like Fort Polk.

No, the cost of freedom is not borne equally by all Americans.

On Memorial Day we pause in a formal setting to remember the sacrifices of those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen that have come before us, that sacrificed their lives for their country. We pause to honor their service.

We pause to remember the “last full measure” given by our Soldiers and that their memory continues in our hearts each day. For those Soldiers that didn’t return, Family members, friends, a grateful nation, will always keep their memories alive.

We also pause to remember our wounded military members that have returned from war with mental or physical injuries. And we know that, no, the cost of freedom is not borne equally by all Americans.

Those service members that have deployed have unforgettable memories and experiences … for me, one of those experiences occurred May 11, 2008.  I was visiting Soldiers at the Military Hospital in Baghdad, when word came in that a Soldier in my Brigade was seriously hurt in an improvised explosive device blast. As I moved to the Emergency Room, you could hear the inbound helicopter. Then they wheeled her in, performing emergency rescue procedures. She never recovered and died that evening.  Jessica was a medic that volunteered to go on counter Improvised explosive device missions with an engineer unit.  She bore the cost of freedom more than most.

My wife, Mayme, and I had a chance to meet CPL Jessica Ellis’ parents at a remembrance ceremony after the deployment. The Family continues to give today – through the memory of their daughter.

Another day I remember vividly is March 10th 2008, when I received word that a suicide bomber had detonated himself near one of our units.  As I approached the unit, the report came in – five dead and multiple wounded.  I remember arriving at the scene where our Soldiers were securing the site and cleaning up the streets after the blast.

I will never forget the look in the Soldiers’ eyes after experiencing this terrible attack against their unit. I will never forget the sacrifice of these Soldiers, SFC Suzch, SSG Cimarrusti, SSG Julian, CPL McDavid and CPL McIntosh.

All service members that have deployed — no matter which war – have similar experiences; all know of friends, fellow Soldiers that gave their lives.

America is a great country; we have incredible military members, Families, retirees and a professional civilian workforce that understand the commitment to this profession of arms. When you look across the pine forest, the farmers’ fields, the small towns of Louisiana, you can see the Soldiers that came before us.

You can see the Soldiers of World War II, the Soldiers of the Louisiana Maneuvers. You can see them as clearly as if you were sitting on a front porch in Central Louisiana in 1941. You can see the Soldiers training for the Korean War in the early 1950s, for a potential nuclear war in the mid 1950s. You can still clearly see the millions of Soldiers that trained at Fort Polk in the 1960s as they prepared to deploy to Vietnam.

I know I can see them clearly, as if they were standing in front of me now. I see these Soldiers every month. The same 18-24 year old Soldiers that trained in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s still train today in 2014.  America’s sons and daughters are entrusted to our leaders to train and prepare them for the unknown hardships and struggle that come with serving in the Army and deploying in harm’s way.

Yes, they are the same Soldiers today, with two exceptions: Today’s Soldiers have better equipment and women stand beside the men.

The cost of freedom is not borne equally by all Americans. The cost of freedom is paid for every month at the Joint Readiness Training Center as we prepare the next unit to deploy to Afghanistan or to be ready to deploy on short notice contingency operations. It is a cost — and more importantly — a commitment that all of us make when we are assigned to Fort Polk; a commitment to provide the best training possible, to stress the leaders and units during their rotation, to try our best to prepare the units for the unknown.

As we reflect on the past and prepare for the future, please pause on not just Memorial Day, but every day to remember the service of those who came before us. Remember their commitment and sacrifice so that we can stand proudly today in a free United States.

Those service members – those of yesterday, those of today, those of tomorrow, can look inside ourselves and say, “America we stand ready to carry more than our fair share of the burden of securing freedom.  America, we stand proud with you; we pledge our best.”

May God Bless our military and may God bless our Nation.”